Zero has street cred as prime num­ber for cars

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - Rick Popely

THE Detroit Auto Show has been the place where au­tomak­ers try to out­mus­cle each other with mind-bog­gling horse­power num­bers and per­for­mance claims. But this year, man­u­fac­tur­ers show­cas­ing new cars and new tech­nol­ogy are fo­cus­ing more than ever on zero, as in zero emis­sions or zero gaso­line con­sumed rather than the much vaunted zero-to-60mph times.

Pushed by con­sumers wor­ried about ris­ing gaso­line prices and global warm­ing and prod­ded by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, which has man­dated a leap in fuel ef­fi­ciency, car com­pa­nies at this year’s show have turned the cor­ner on their com­mit­ment to al­ter­na­tive fu­els.

One thing is clear just walk­ing the aisles at this year’s show: con­sumer sen­ti­ment is chang­ing and au­tomak­ers are scram­bling to ad­dress it.

There will al­ways be room for high­per­for­mance, ex­hil­a­rat­ing cars, but they’ll prob­a­bly sell in lower vol­ume in the fu­ture,’’ said Mark LaNeve, Gen­eral Mo­tor Co’s head of sales and mar­ket­ing. The con­sumer fo­cus now is on higher fuel prices and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.

We’re en­ter­ing a new phase the in­dus­try and there will be big change in pow­er­trains, size of ve­hi­cles and what peo­ple buy. We’re just be­gin­ning to see that change.’’

Com­pe­ti­tion be­tween GM and Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp — al­ready locked in a bat­tle over No.1 in global sales — in­ten­si­fied on the green front Mon­day with Toy­ota an­nounc­ing plans to race GM to mar­ket with plug-in hy­brids that use lithium-ion bat­ter­ies by as early as 2010. On Sun­day, both touted re­search plans to de­rive sources.

All around the show at Cobo Cen­ter, car com­pa­nies that seem­ingly had ceded in­ter­est in hy­brids and other clean’’ tech­nolo­gies to Toy­ota and Honda are now singing their virtues. And that in­cludes such un­likely play­ers as Land Rover, whose LRX con­cept packs a two-liter four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel en­gine teamed with lithium-ion bat­ter­ies.

One com­pany even man­aged to make ethanol al­most sexy: Fer­rari an­nounced that it was ex­per­i­ment­ing with the bio­fuel in its ex­otic sports cars to lower emis­sions and im­prove mileage. It showed a pro­to­type F430 Spy­der that burns E85, the ethanol/gaso­line blend, and wears green bio­fuel la­bels.

David Cole, chair­man of the Cen­ter for Au­to­mo­tive Re­search, says au­tomak­ers recog­nised that be­ing green is good busi­ness. Toy­ota ce­mented its rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a tech­nol­ogy and en­vi­ron­men­tal leader as the big­gest pro­po­nent of hy­brids. Toy­ota sold 277,000 of the gas/electrics in the US last year, about three-fourths of the in­dus­try to­tal.

Now GM is ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion of hy­brids and ve­hi­cles that run on E85, an area in which Toy­ota is lack­ing.

That com­pe­ti­tion is very nat­u­ral,’’ Cole says. You have the two largest com­pa­nies in the in­dus­try, and th­ese guys are go­ing to go af­ter each other ham­mer and tong.’’ Toy­ota Pres­i­dent Kat­suaki Watan­abe says, We’re not just lim­it­ing our­selves to GM, but the en­tire in­dus­try. We don’t want to be the loser in this com­pe­ti­tion, of course.’’

Toy­ota plans to of­fer hy­brid tech­nol­ogy in all of its model lines by 2020 and is also de­vel­op­ing pure elec­tric and fuel-cell ve­hi­cles.

ethanol

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fuel from non-food

Green ap­peal: Bio­fuel-pow­ered Fer­rari F430 Spy­der

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